The Customer Friendly Agency: A Historical Institutionalist Investigation of the Federal Aviation Administration
Kent State University
Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper
In March and April of 2008, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded several hundred aircraft for a mandatory safety audit after news reports surfaced that several Southwest Airlines aircraft had been operating without inspection certifications for over thirty months. Some charged that FAA oversight of the airlines had become lax because of a 'cozy relationship' between regulator and industry in which the FAA 'coddled the airlines'). Using the historical institutionalism work of Pierson (2004), this paper explores what role has past policy decisions had in shaping the FAA's culture, mission and current policies in the area of maintenance oversight. Using interviews, committee testimony, and agency memos, this paper will investigate this conflicting mission by analyzing two of the FAA's main flight standards programs responsible for ensuring the compliance of airlines in safely maintaining aircraft: The Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and the Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP). The main argument advanced in this paper is that the mission of the FAA has a built-in conflict of interest to 'encourage and foster the development of civil aeronautics and air commerce' (Poole 1982) while acting as the main regulator for aviation safety that has resulted in a lack of coordination and regulatory oversight within the agency.
Date posted: March 29, 2010
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